The Inside look of Music School with Rejy Drayton

Today, we’re here with a local artist from Rutgers University, baritone Rejy Drayton to talk a little bit more about the twists and turns of music school; more specifically Mason Gross School of the Arts. Whether you are an up and coming singer, or just interested in the behind the scenes of what people do to become classically trained musicians, I truly believe that Rejy perfectly discusses his experience crafting his art. 9E09BC8B-CB8A-40AC-8F19-ECC509158164

Let’s get started with you just telling us a bit more about yourself

Sure! I am a senior vocal performance major which means that I study mostly opera, but that is just for the sake of technique. The music I perform varies from genre to genre. Sometimes it’s cabaret songs, sometimes it’s art songs.

Interesting, so if you weren’t in Mason Gross, what type of music would you want to perform?

Same things that I’d probably perform anyways. It’d probably be some pop songs. Maybe some broadway show tunes (I do that a lot anyways)

What made you decide to pursue a career in music? Did anyone have influence on that decision?

Not really. It was kind of one of those self-fulfilling prophecies where your whole life, everyone’s like “You’re gonna go to music school and be so good, and I’m so excited for the music you’re gonna make in the future.” I’m just like “..I wanna be a doctor.” So after my freshman year of high school, I wanted to do musical theater, but my mom was like, “Absolutely not.”  By my senior we compromised to music education. But even that quickly changed so.. 

So what is it you want to do as a career when you graduate?

I hate that question. There’s a couple reasons why I hate that question. I don’t like how life is structured already one of which being at 18 years old you should have an idea of what you want to do for the rest of your life. I think that’s silly because life changes so things are going to change regardless. Now that I’m graduating, it’s the time to choose what I want to do and even then, I’m still rather young so I can’t definitively say. What I will say is I will try to sing and perform, and I’ll teach private lessons. I’m trying to get my teaching certification just for a steady source of income, but that’s not the ultimate goal you know? Maybe get a job as a choral maestro and prep choirs.

Can you describe what the day-to-day life is like of being a music student?

The day in the life of a music student? I wake up and wonder why I’m still doing it..  No, I kid, I feel like it’s the life of any other student. The only difference being that we get to do more fun things in my opinion. It’s not that you can’t do it. It’s the same thing: you wake up, you go to class, you come home, and you do homework. Our homework just isn’t sitting down and doing math, or writing papers all the time. Sometimes we’re just in a practice room and that is our homework. Or just having extra rehearsals, so we don’t have as much free time as everyone else.

So talking about that free time ( I know this is true for me), do you ever feel like the workload becomes too much? How to you manage?

Oh absolutely. I think in those moments, you have to remember to breathe, take things one thing at a time, and if you’re really struggling, just talk to people. People are so afraid to admit that they’re overwhelmed. And I think that’s the nature of music schools in general. We just have this huge chip on our shoulder, and can’t admit when we don’t know what to do. If you knew everything, you wouldn’t be here, and if you know nothing, then you’re in the best place to be. Talk to the dean. Talk to your academic adviser. Talk to your friends. There are people here to help you.

Do you ever experience performance anxiety? What would your advice be to people who also struggle with that?

I find that there’s two types of performance anxiety. The first being you’re afraid to perform in front of people, and then there’s the anxiety that I have where I’m afraid to perform in front of people with there’s high stakes (i.e. being graded). So aural skills and piano were a tough time for me. I would completely lose all ability to read music. It literally looked like as if I was staring at pointillism. Not kidding. My advice for the first type of anxiety is to go balls to the wall. Just do it. There comes a time when you realize you’re doing this for fun and people are out here to see you. Whether you do a good job or not, they’re still going to love you, so just do it. That’s why when I’m in performance class, I can just  get up there and sing. For the second type, you can only prepare so much. Good preparation is paramount. This way it’s less thinking on your part. Just do your best. And if your best ain’t great, that’s okay. That’s why we’re here to get better.

Is there anything you like or dislike about the music industry?

Oh definitely! I think in the world of music, we all know what it’s like to do this as a profession we are (usually) kind to each other and very supportive. However, you (as a musician) are constantly politicking. You just constantly feel like you’re walking on egg shells.You can’t tell if people are being genuinely nice, or just trying to be fake nice so they don’t ruin their reputation. I feel like if you’re the most genuine, that’s what’s going to get you jobs. Do you want a friend that’s going to lie to you and say something was good when you sounded like a dumpster fire? You need people that will actually look out for you because THAT’S how you get better. It’s just always people kissing ass and sucking up so they don’t have enemies. Inevitably, you’ll  still get enemies. But for the right reasons. There is always a way for people to give constructive criticism.

So I know that you’re a senior. Anything you’ll miss the most here when you graduate?

Probably just always having something to do. And always being around my friends.

As we wrap this up, is there any final words you want to leave this discussion on? 

I mean we can drag this conversation forever because A: I love to talk, and B: this is like my favorite thing to talk about. One thing definitely is that it is a lot of work and the fun is to learn the music and get to perform. It’s the interpersonal relationships that get you the jobs. A friend of mine told me that the thing that gets you jobs is what happens in the bar, not in rehearsal. Because if you’re a great person within and outside the rehearsals, that’s going to get you more jobs. Because good people hire good people, and that results in great music.

Rejy was absolutely right about the politics of the music industry. Although there are many frustrating aspects, “music as an artform is inspiring. It makes us feel something. It challenges us. It uplifts us when we need it the most. Musicians are some of the most creative people on this planet.”- Gig form Maybe, we need to stop caring so much about having everyone “like” us. Just be genuine, and make good music.

West Coast Rap isn’t Just L.A: A Look into The Bay Area Rap Scene

When people outside of the West coast think of rap, I guarantee that they think immediately of Southern Cali artists such as N.W.A, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, etc. But what about the bay? Although very specific to the region, the Bay area has such an interesting

bay areamusic scene.  With less than 6% of the black community left in San Francisco, it has altered the music scene to be a call for social justice. From an outsider looking in, it seems like the music is just fun party songs. However, it has become more a staple to the resistance to the rapid gentrification.

One aspect of the bay area scene is that they try to bring positivity into a bad situation. Gentrification in the bay has gotten so bad to the point where black communities are becoming almost non existent. Police brutality is at an ultimate high to push PoC out. One thing that has brought the community together is through rap. You got rappers like Mac Dre back in the 90s. He was a pioneer of this type of rap after being released from prison. He decided to throw parties with music that he was making. These parties became bigger and bigger until they were just full-scale concerts. He started influencing other rappers in the area with his style now known as “hyphy” music.

“When hip hops true influence as a cultural movement is finally understood..people will recognize that the very same synergy at the heart of hip hop’s commercial success has also informed our generation’s activist and political theorist”

-Baraka Kitwana on Bay Area Hyphy Music

Since then it’s grown to be one of the most influential types of music in modern day hip hop (look at Drake incorporating some of that into his style). It is now what brings together a dying community. I was watching a documentary called Noisey about the Bay Area hip hop scene, and one thing I noticed is how close the black community is. Rapper Nef the Pharoah was talking about how there’s always some sort of violence in the city (right before 3 people from his crew and a bystander get searched for no valid reason and arrested). It shows how this community is marginalized, and serves as an indication for why they need music as an outlet for free expression when they are constantly oppressed.

Although Bay Area rap has a popular sound, there’s not that many famous rappers from here. I don’t see this as a bad thing. It’s something that remains solely in the heart of the bay. It sets the natives away from the gentrified “transplants” of the city. When a song like Feelin Myself comes on at the club, and only a few people in a sea of at least 70 actually get excited that such a classic is playing, then you know the authenticity of the city hasn’t completely gone extinct. Who’s knows, maybe the original Bay Area will come back one day.

“I just think we need more creativity, cause what it is, is like a lot of times when you’re from a soil that the recognition is not really recognized by the masses, they try to fly right over us. Like: ‘Oh, they’re from the Bay. We know they’ve got talent. But we’re scooting over there and we’re flying to LA or whatever else we’re going to go.’ ” –E-40 on the future of the Bay Area music scene

Setting the Text: From Poetry to Song, Copland Does it All!

In my third year as a voice student, I’ve come across some very interesting pieces. One of the current songs I’m working on is Heart We Will Forget Him, by Aaron Copland. I love his music because it really incorporates a lot of classical, jazz, and folk all in one, unique sound.

“Heart, we will forget him, You and I, tonight, You may forget, the warmth he gave, I will forget the light, When you have done, pray tell me, That I my thoughts may dim, Haste, lest while you’re lagging, I may remember him” -Emily Dickinson

This piece is part of a collection Copland composed from 12 poems by Emily Dickinson that he beautifully set to music. From the work I’ve done on Copland pieces, I can definitively say that Copland perfectly displays the textual meaning behind the song.

aaron copland

When I first received this song, I thought, ” Great, another one of those 20th century weird tonality pieces and will be hard to get in my voice.” However, I brought it to a coach, and really began to understand the meaning behind the song.  I finally had some context to this song. When the song starts out saying “Heart, we will forget him,” I realized that it was a self narrative. She’s ( the singer) talking to her own heart. The poem is an entire conversation of trying to get her heart to forget someone she once loved. It really made me feel sympathetic once I had a full understanding. This gave so much context to Copland’s musical setting of the piece. He has a lot of speeding up and slowing down in the tempo. I think the intention behind this is the narrator trying to have certainty in wanting to forget about her lover. Copland’s piece really makes it so that the important words are stressed throughout. My favorite line of the piece is “Haste, lest while you’re lagging, I will remember him.” I saw this as the narrator trying to say that her heart better hurry up and help her forget, yet she’s already has started to remember. He illustrates the words by speeding up the word “haste” and slowing down “lagging.” With the bigger ritardando on “him,” I think Copland perfectly sets the tone of the narrators reluctant, sweet remembrance.

Another note in this piece is how there is a very “ambiguous” key signature. It seems to mostly be in E flat major, but with many added sharps and flats throughout the song, it leaves a little bit of free-ness and spontaneity. I think this is also by design. By Copland having a slight step into the realm of atonality, it makes the piece more conversation-like. He also does this by not having too much going on within the rythmn of the piece. It leads to seeing an form of art within words that makes the listener feel the emotions of the text.

 “I followed the natural inflection of the words of the poems, particularly when they were conversational. There is a certain amount of what is called ‘word-painting’–an occasional bird-call, flutterings, and grace notes in the introduction to the first song ‘Nature, the Gentlest Mother,’ the bugle-like melody for the voice in ‘There Came a Wind Like a Bugle,’ and so forth.” Aaron Copland on the compostion of Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson

I think the Aaron Copland’s descriction of his ‘word painting’ is really important in understanding the songs meaning. This is an incredibly useful tool in composition. What if more songs used this method? Don’t you think more songs would be more lively?

 

Momma Mixtape: Bring Back The Funk

 

My mom has always been there for me since day one,

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and one of the best ways we share our bond is through music. She introduced me to the world of opera, took me to my first concert, and even encouraged me to pursue a career in music. So I figure one of the best ways to illustrate my mother is through a playlist. Here’s 5 songs that give me the best memories of my mom, because without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

#1 Gold Digger -Kanye West ft. Jamie Foxx

I know, when you first read this, you’re like what? This song reminds you of your MOM?? Well, it definitely reminds me of all the road trips my mom and I would do together to Washington D.C to pick my brother up from college. This song would always come up on the way the since it was the 2005-2008 time period. It was always one of the highlights of the drive, me and her singing along to that song (it was even specific that she’d rap Ye’s verses and I’d sing Jamie Foxx’s part).

#2 Solid– Ashford and Simpson

Now this song reminds me of my mom for a multitude of reasons. For one, we went to a concert in Philly and Valerie Simpson was actually performing this song in tribute of her late husband, Nick Ashford. Everyone in the audience was singing along with her; this was one of their most famous songs, and there was no way we were going to let her perform it on her own. It was such a bittersweet moment. The second reason is that the summer before I started college, I noticed my mom’s expansive vinyl collection. Solid was part of it. I wanted to be able to bring something to remind me of home, so I took that album and framed it in my first college dorm. It was definitely a centerpiece in my decor, and always reminded me of my mom.

#3 Drummer Boy– Jackson 5

Around the holidays, my mom always plays the Jackson 5 Christmas album, and she told me that one of her favorite songs was The Little Drummer Boy. After listening to the song, I see why. It is such a happy, peppy beat that is warm and inviting. This is the perfect song for Christmas around my family. Every time I hear this song, I think of when I’m helping my mom prepare the Christmas dinner, putting wrapped presents under the tree, and the genuine joy this time of year brings for my family.

#4 I’m Every Woman – Whitney Houston

Do your parents ever hear a nostalgic song and tell you “your generation doesn’t know anything about this song” and just get up and dance? Well, this is that type of song for my mom. Every time I hear this song, I think about her doing her little two step and singing along to this song. My mom has always kept me up to date with old school and new school (believe it or not my mom listens to Jay Z, Kanye, Sza  etc). This bridge between old school and new school music has inspired the diverse taste in music I have now. This song also just reminds  how powerful of a woman my mom is.

#5 Habenera from Bizet’s Carmen -Denyce Graves, soprano

Hearing this song always reminds me of how cultured my mom is. She is the person who introduced me to the world of opera. This singer, Denyce Graves, is an African American operatic soprano, and the first opera singer I ever saw perform. I think it was important that my mom exposed me to this when I was so little. Seeing a grown black woman sing classical music was such an inspiring thing for me, especially seeing how white washed the classical music sphere is today. It made me see at a young age that opera is something that I CAN do. Ever since that performance my mom took me to, I’ve been working towards the goal of being an operatic singer. And I can’t thank my mom enough for paving the way to my aspirations.

This selection of music is all diverse because my mom is a very versatile woman. She could listen to almost any genre of music, old generation or new and find something to love about it. If you want to check out the full playlist, check it out on Spotify!

Hit or Miss? An in Depth Look at Lana Del Rey

Earlier this year, Lana Del Rey performed live at the Lollapalooza in Santiago, Chile. Although I was not able to attend this performance, the internet is such a wonderful, convenient place that is was very easy to find a full concert video. I’ve never seen a full live concert of hers; let’s just say I had a few qualms with this one. She seems to be very uncomfortable in a live setting. Whether it’s nerves, or just not having great stage presence, Lana’s performances are always a hit or miss for me. From seeing the entirety of this concert, Lana Del Rey seems like she’s not a great live performer, but she flourishes creatively as a writer/artist in a studio setting.

The first thing I noticed in this concert was the song she started with, 13 Beaches. It seemed like she was off to a rocky start. Her higher notes just kept falling flat and completely straight toned. She was barely moving around on the

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stage. There was also very little talking at all. She mostly just went from song to song with barely any interludes to talk to the audience. One part that stuck out was when she said “Fuck it, it’s good enough” and then went into White Mustang Now this is a great song, don’t get me wrong. My only issue with it is that she was relying heavily on the playbacks (this is true for most of her set). If I were there at her concert, I’d want to hear her sing, not just half-ass sing along to a track.

Halfway through her set, Lana seemed to get more comfortable. She sang High By The Beach and Born to Die ; she sounded significantly more relaxed in these pieces. Hell, she even came down from the stage to walk amongst the fans. She sounded more free and organic in her musicality. It reminded me of what I love when I listen to her on vinyl. Another noteworthy part of her concert was Blue JeansI was anticipating this song because in the past, Lana’s live performance of this on SNL was so disappointing and honestly made me cringe.

This performance however did not disappoint. She truly redeemed herself from this flop on SNL. It was honestly such a difference in her performance, yet it bring’s me back to the issue of Lana’s vocal’s being a hit or a miss.

There are moments when Lana seems very unsure of herself as a live performer, yet there are some moments when she seems to be very in her element. Maybe this slight awkwardness could be perceived as charming and what sets her apart from other artists. She maintains authenticity through her lyrics, and even to her wardrobe. It’s all about how the audience perceives her and thus far, she has had mostly positive feedback from her fans. Maybe one way she could overcome this awkward stage presence could be to approach as if she was doing a studio performance or music video. By adding a performance art aspect, it could lead to smoother transitions and her not feeling like she’s there to sing in front of thousands of screaming fans, but rather making art become reality. She’d be a storyteller. Her conceptualization of the songs could be a game changer. Or hey, she could just focus on song writing. Either way, I’d still buy her albums and she will continue making amazing music.

“Ringing” the House Down

“I’ve spent my whole career trying to stay out of any box that anyone could put me in. ‘I’m going to do a play now.’ ‘Now I’ll do a musical.’ That was my instinct. So I don’t feel boxed in. But ‘African-American woman’ is part of my identity. I don’t want to relinquish that – especially as a mother, helping my daughter find her identity.”

Audra McDonald

This week, we’re diving right into an entirely different genre of music: musical theatre. Tony aaudra mcdonaldward winning singer/actress Audra McDonald, has made quite a name for herself. From broadway, to television, to film, McDonald has truly done it all. But let’s take a closer look at how she got where she is today. She has taken her classical music background and become a multi-dimensional performer. One of her earlier albums called How Glory Goes shows the true diversity of her repertoire, and truly foreshadows her success. After listening to her album, I truly believe that musical theater should aspire to the standards of classical music, rather than the awful “nasal” sound we so often hear in this genre.

My initial thoughts when hearing this album was that I enjoy Audra’s vocal technique that she includesaudra 2.jpeg in her repertoire. In classical voice, a big factor in projecting sound is to elongate vowels (and boy, do I love a good vowel). In an article from Musical Theatre Resources, they go on to explain this as “legit” singing and use examples such as Julie Andrews.  This is very unlike current day broadway, where consonants are emphasized. By really taking her time on those beautiful vowel sounds, she creates a vibrato that has a full, ringing sound. A great highlight would definitely be her rendition of  Summertime from Porgy and Bess. Right when she holds out that high B at the end, I literally get chills. Technically, this is an American opera, but this piece expressed such an easy free-ness to the voice that I had to include this piece as a highlight. In most broadway productions, high notes are belted and may sound nice, but can easily put strain on the voice. Therefore, Audra’s method could prove to be more beneficial to the singer. Maybe it’s just the lowkey classical music snob in me, but I enjoy her incorporation of this style of singing throughout her album, and it genuinely made me enjoy musical theater more. This series of songs proves classical voice training could be incorporated in any genre. However, what about the actual song pieces? So far we’ve discussed the voice, but the context of the actual pieces leaves a creative void that the album fails to fill.

The problem I have with this album is the lack of diversity in repertoire. I always look for contrasting pieces that really give layers to the listener. However, most of the pieces sounded so similar that it was hard to discern many differences. For example I Won’t Mind, and Come Down From the Tree. Don’t get me wrong, these are both emotional, moving pieces and individually sound great. It’s just that almost every song has the same narrative. Each song her telling a story to another character about overcoming something for love. While this is a great narrative, it isn’t great when you hear it 8 times in a row. I think Audra could’ve had a better repertoire selection. While the individual tracks had a story arch, the album as a whole maintain one note with no climax or surprise. Maybe that is the fault of music theater itself.

All in all, I enjoy Audra McDonald as an artist and listeners can expect to hear a calamity and warm inviting tone to her voice. I might not enjoy the song selection, but I do enjoy this style of singing being brought back into popular songs on broadway. She really doesn’t let herself be limited to a certain style of singing and I really respect that as a fellow African-American singer. So many times it’s expected for black singers to be limited to chest voice. McDonald will always be the standard I hold up to musical theater. Keep bringing the house down with that resonance.

Mac Miller: Gone but Not Forgotten

In honor of the late Mac Miller, I’ve decided to write this first post about one of his most recent songs, Come Back to Earth. I will be honest: before he died, I knew nothing about him except that he was a rapper and that he dated Ariana Grande for a while. It was only after he died that I saw a flood of fans showing grief online, especially on Twitter. What really sparked my interest in his music is how much his death affected people. In Miller’s later pieces, I definitely get a sense that instead of it being corny trap music that is, as I like

mac millerto say, “radio friendly” or about “hoes” and getting money, I’m getting a taste of Mac Miller’s personal life/ struggles. I firmly believe that Come Back to Earth was actually a reflection of his addictive lifestyle, and was a cry out for help.

When first listening to this track, the first thing I immediately noticed was the spacey slow beat of the piano. The piano rolls a lot of notes and gives the sense as though time around Mac is slowing down. It really make me relate this to drugs as a form of escapism and that he was using the music as a way to illustrate what it’s like when he is high. He says in one verse, “In my own way just feel like living some alternate reality.” This line really spoke to me as his way of coping with depression. He doesn’t make the entire song a dark reflection. He does discuss a theme of no longer “drowning” but now “swimming.” Some may believe that this was showing a more positive outlook (Rolling Stone), but I believe it was the numbness from drugs that helped to not feel emotional pain. Swimming doesn’t necessarily mean being emotionally sound. All he is essentially doing is staying afloat. In order to feel free, he could’ve said something about getting out of the water.

Overall, Mac Miller’s music really started to take a dark turn from 2013 on. It seems like his music actually preluded to his death. On a sad, ironic note, the Vulture posted an interview with Mac Miller a day before his death. Miller talked about how he’d want his fans to honor him:

“The people that have the best chance of knowing me, that would like to” the late 26-year-old rapper said, “would just be by listening to my music.” And while his later music developed an alchemy of complicated sorrow and clear-headed descriptions of substance abuse, one does need not look too deep into his catalog to hear the sweetness that characterized the Pittsburgh rapper’s career.

-Rolling Stone

I’m sad I didn’t get to know this artist’s music before he died, but I’m grateful to be able to still have access to his albums, and get to know him through the legacy he left behind. I will be listening to more of his music in the future. In the meanwhile, rest easy Mac.